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Why you should set up a travel clinic in your community pharmacy

You might think now is the last time to set up a travel clinic. But one Devon-based pharmacist has already seen the benefits – despite the COVID-19 pandemic

They say that travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic years, travel was not just a luxury but an impossibility for consumers.

However, consumer demand was quick to resume again once travel restrictions lifted and this trend seems to be continuing.

This is something that Jackie Lewis, the owner of Lewis Pharmacy in Exmouth, Devon, knows first-hand. She has run the business with her husband for 23 years.

Ms Lewis says: “I’m the pharmacist and [my husband] does the business side of things.”

“Our pharmacy serves the town of Exmouth, which has a mainly elderly population.

“About 13 years ago, we moved premises and set up three consulting rooms. We then decided to start a travel clinic a couple of years before [COVID-19]."

Read more: 'One-stop' online travel clinic training launched for pharmacists

Read on to find out more about their experience of running a travel clinic that is not just surviving but thriving.


Setting up the service


Ms Lewis had already become an independent prescriber when Lewis Pharmacy made the decision to start the service.

“I was getting more and more comfortable with giving vaccines,” she says. 

Even though the service “was taking off”, it took a while to see results, Ms Lewis explains.

“It [took] a while to work out whether [we were] going to charge people who walked through the door and wanted a consultation,” she recalls.

Read more: Is a travel clinic the right move for your pharmacy?

Then GPs started referring patients to the pharmacy, she explains.

“I got people [referred] from eight surgeries and some of those surgeries wanted me to see them before they’d see them,” she says.

However, explaining the travel clinic's business model to patients can be tricky.

“If you tell [patients] that the GPs want [them to get] NHS injections like hepatitis A, typhoid and tetanus, they ask why you are charging them," Ms Lewis explains.

“I reply that it's taking my time.”


What does the service entail?


Ms Lewis's main customer base was gap-year students, which she says was very rewarding.

“It’s been a nice addition to the business," she adds.

She points out that it's important for pharmacy owners to think of other revenue streams as she believes that the NHS "doesn't give us enough money anymore".

Read more: Mind the gap (year) rush to your community pharmacy travel clinic

Lewis Pharmacy offers NHS travel vaccines but “also offer malaria prevention, jet lag and travellers’ diarrhoea antibiotics”.

The pharmacy also offers other vaccinations, including chicken pox and shingles jabs. 

“We’re just becoming expert at vaccines,” she says.


Help from the pharmacy team


Ms Lewis has worked with her team to refine the process the pharmacy uses for the travel clinic.

She explains: “I’ve taught them how to deal with consultations so that quite often [appointments are] a bit more refined by the time they get into the diary.

“My job is then to go through everything again and get them signed up to the database that I’m using at the moment and give the injections.”

Read more: Valneva launches travel vaccine resource for pharmacies

Ms Lewis has also provided additional training for her team, allowing her to spend more time to offer clinical services.

“I’ve upskilled my dispensary team so I’ve got two seniors that are checking [prescriptions]," she explains.

“I’ve also upskilled my staff to remove myself from the dispensary as much as I need do and that includes the other services like [the] new medicines service and so on.”


COVID-19's affect on the travel clinic


But just when the travel clinic was "finding its feet", COVID-19 struck. 

"I’d just done all the yellow fever training to be a yellow fever centre and invested that money and time," Ms Lewis recalls. "I just felt like my two years of paying for it was going to be up before I’d even given one [injection]."

“It was a real shame when COVID-19 hit and also you’re not getting the income," she says.

However she thinks it all “shook out in the end”.

Read more: How are changing travel health demands affecting pharmacy clinics?

Luckily, Ms Lewis was able to redouble her vaccination efforts a few months later when COVID-19 vaccinations were introduced, with her pharmacy becoming a "high-volume" site 

Ms Lewis explains that the move to redesigned premises meant there were already three consulting rooms in place, which really helped with the team's vaccination efforts.

“Doing COVID-19 vaccines has notched us up a level," she says. "We used GPs and nurses from around town and had a proper vaccine fridge, so after that we were a lot more confident with it.”

She adds this helped them to administer 50,000 COVID-19 vaccinations.


What's next?


Ms Lewis says that the need for travel vaccinations and advice is higher than ever as people begin to travel again.

“Travel is in high demand for gap-year students mainly but also for other people visiting relatives and going on holiday themselves," she says.

“There is a bigger demand probably than there ever was.” 

Read more: How you can capitalise on increased demand for pharmacy travel health services

She says that she would recommend starting a travel clinic.

“It’s very rewarding. It’s great to be giving vaccinations and know all about them. It’s a really good addition to the business.”

However, “it is quite hard to get everyone to know in the outside world” that you are offering a travel clinic, she says.

But while patients' desire to travel remains this strong, it looks like the clamour for Lewis Pharmacy's travel health offering isn't going anywhere.

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